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6 Safe, Reliable Used Cars under $10,000

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author photo by Jeffrey Archer July 2012

It can be hard to find a great used car for $10,000. Knowing that, we've compiled a list of vehicles available at that price point. All emphasize the key components of safety and reliability. To find reliable cars, we looked through J.D. Power's Vehicle Dependability Study, which examines the long-term dependability of three-year-old vehicles. Safety was calculated based on the number of active and passive safety features included in each vehicle. We can't ensure reliability by inspecting each vehicle we recommend, but we think each of these cars will provide dependable, worry-free transportation for years to come if maintained properly and inspected thoroughly.

2004 Acura 3.5 RL

Acura's luxurious RL sedan is a great choice for car shoppers interested in a reliable vehicle with lots of safety equipment for less than $10,000. That figure isn't quite high enough to get you the redesigned 2005 model, so we recommend the somewhat bland but extremely competent 2004 3.5 RL, which counted four-wheel ABS, front side airbags and an anti-skid system among its standard safety equipment. The sedan also includes a standard navigation system with voice recognition along with leather upholstery, heated front seats, an in-dash six-disc CD changer and alloy wheels. Best of all, J.D. Power consistently ranked the RL among the top premium cars in its Vehicle Dependability Study.

2004 Buick Park Avenue

Buick's full-size Park Avenue offers a compelling package for less than $10,000. With nearly 100 examples currently listed on AutoTrader.com nationwide, we recommend a 2004 model. It combines a relatively recent model year with strong reliability and a long list of standard features. Such equipment includes safety items like front side airbags, four-wheel ABS and daytime running lights, along with useful options like rear parking sensors and a head-up display that projects on the sedan's windshield. The Park Avenue's large size isn't for everyone, but buyers looking for a big car will appreciate the sedan's roomy interior and its powerful 3.8-liter V6. Best of all, the Park Avenue was one of the three most reliable large cars on J.D. Power's 2007 vehicle dependability study, meaning a well-maintained example will likely remain durable for years to come.

2005 Honda Element

Honda's practical Element earns our hearty recommendation because of its reputation for reliability and practicality, along with a long list of standard safety features. The overall Element lineup is distinguished as the most dependable compact SUV in the J.D. Power 2008 Vehicle Dependability Study. However, we prefer the upscale Element EX to the base LX because the Element EX adds a host of upscale features including remote keyless entry, alloy wheels and satellite radio, along with two crucial safety features: front side airbags and four-wheel ABS. A 2005 Element EX is also easy to find on AutoTrader.com for less than $10,000, with nearly 100 examples currently listed on the site in that price range.

2002 Lexus IS300

In addition to leading the Entry Premium Vehicle category in the J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study for several years, the Lexus IS300 counts handsome styling, sporty driving characteristics and a long list of standard equipment among its many attributes. We recommend the sedan's 2002 model, which boasts the same interior and exterior design as newer versions while avoiding common problems expected in 2001 models due to their first-year status. Many 2002 models are also available well within the $10,000 price range, with more than 80 currently listed on AutoTrader.com. And while that means buying a 10-year-old car, we wouldn't hesitate to purchase a well-maintained example considering its reliability record, surprisingly fresh styling and long list of standard safety equipment that includes side curtain airbags and four-wheel ABS.

2003 Oldsmobile Bravada

Although Oldsmobile is now a defunct division of General Motors, the brand's final SUV offered a good combination of standard equipment and safety features for a reasonable price. Released in 2002, the mid-size SUV counted the Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy, Isuzu Ascender and Buick Rainier among its siblings, meaning parts and service will still be available. The Bravada also included standard traction control and four-wheel ABS as well as a long list of comfort items including leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control and automatic headlights. Best of all, the Bravada topped the wildly competitive mid-size SUV segment in J.D. Power's 2007 Vehicle Dependability Study, meaning a well-maintained example is likely to last for years to come. As a result, it's easy for us to recommend any of the 40-plus Bravada models currently listed on AutoTrader.com for less than $10,000.

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Used 2005 Toyota Camry LE Sedan
Used 2005 Toyota Camry
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Used 2004 Acura MDX
Used 2004 Acura MDX

2005 Toyota Camry

We highly recommend that car shoppers interested in a safe, dependable ride on a budget check out a 2005 Camry in the mid-size sedan's upscale XLE trim level. The 2005 Camry finished among the top three mid-size sedans in J.D. Power's 2008 Vehicle Dependability Study, and it boasts safety features like standard four-wheel ABS and daytime running lights and optional side airbags. XLE models also include a long list of equipment ranging from automatic climate control and an in-dash six-disc CD changer to a fuel-saving standard five-speed automatic transmission-and dozens are available nationwide on AutoTrader.com within the $10,000 budget. While the 3.0-liter V6 model provides muscular passing power for nearly any situation, we recommend the peppy 4-cylinder, which offers an adequate 160 horsepower and up to 34 mpg in highway driving.

What it means to you: Although you have to know where to look, it's possible to find a safe and reliable used car for $10,000 or less.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
6 Safe, Reliable Used Cars under $10,000 - Autotrader